(Digital) Word

February 17, 2009

I’m in awe of the way this video takes years of web development and breaks it down into concepts whose relevance to our daily use of language and information is immediately clear and compelling. Plus, that cool synthesizer soundtrack makes everything sound more important.


Flock to it

July 25, 2008

Come Flock with me, in my Mozilla-powered social web browser. It took me about 10 minutes to get it all set up. And you can blog straight from the browser, to multiple blog accounts. Fun.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

I’ve been thinking about how my thesis would look as a world cloud for a long time… and along came Wordle to make it happen! Cool!

UPDATE: After conferring w/ my boss here in the digital library division, I have learned that my school’s institutional repository does have this scenario covered–MFA students will be granted an automatic waiver from global access, other students w/ patents pending on their material will also be after the patent process is confirmed (eg Engineering students). So, our TDs will be accessible on-campus but not on the open web. UMI’s copy will still be available for anyone who can their hands on it. Works for me.

I think that the the open access publishing model (where the academic community takes control of scholarly publishing using web-based journal tools and institutional repository space that individual universities own) is crucial to the future of academic work. Why? 1) The ballooning costs of buying access (not even ownership in the case of online journals) to scholarly work are crippling academic collection building and will continue to do so as the market is basically built on monopolies and 2) as the publication of scholarly work depends on publishers who are 100% for-profit entities, it is going to become harder and harder to gain rights to republish scholarly material of any kind. These publishers are not built to recognize the intellectual value of the material they own–they increasingly want large sums for anthologies and other reprints that cannot be paid by the authors and UPs who want to publish the work and never expect to see any kind of profit based on doing so. We must take ownership of our work, or we will lose it in a more permanent way than ever before. It won’t be free to do this, but it won’t cost as much as what we currently pay to rent access to scholarly work.

One wing of open access publishing is the use of electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs). This, eventually, could mean no more waiting for to get a physical copy of someone’s dissertation mailed to you–you can click and open any time. (BTW, this is already true for more recent TD’s if your institution has access to Proquest TDs.)

Of course, there are numerous implications to this model which, even in my most librarian mode, I am not blind to. Which leads to

Exhibit I: The U of Iowa recently instituted mandatory electronic deposit of all graduate theses and dissertations henceforth. Again, I am generally in favor of this, and newsflash, this is the way the academic world is heading. My own U is trying to go 100% digital for graduate T&D’s starting this fall. These documents will be made publicly available in our institutional repository.

The U of Iowa, of course, is home to the most famous MFA program in the country, the Writer’s Workshop. As the MFA is currently structured, it is considered the terminal academic degree in the field. As such, the final product of the degree is considered an academic work, created w/in the academy for academic purposes.

Only, that’s not really how it works. Although it may look like and academic degree and act like one in the job market (after you have a publishing career anyway), students in MFA programs think of themselves as writers, not academics, and the MFA is usually a period of intense, focused work geared toward the production of a saleable manuscript. I think it even says that in a lot of MFA descriptions–you need a booklength manuscript to graduate. That’s a measure that reflects the demands of the marketplace, even if the degree is earned in the academy.

So you know where this is headed. U of Iowa MFAs don’t want their TD’s electronically accessible. They are afraid that having a clickable version online will disqualify that work from consideration by publishers. They might be right–we don’t know yet, although there has been no trouble for writers of more obviously academic work getting their stuff published once it has been made electronically available. It also remains to be seen just how visible these ETDs will really become. Institutional repositories are not indexed by Google or any other web search engine. They are stuck underneath layers and layers of library gateways. To find one, first you would have to know it existed. Of course, you could just make a habit of frequenting the IR’s of schools whose ETDs you wanted to keep abreast of… it would be possible to find them, but it’s not like you could just type it into Google and wham. At least not yet.

This is a quandary for me, as both an MFA student and an MLIS student. I resent the attitude of exceptionality displayed by the departments in question at Iowa–the idea that their work should be exempt from a policy geared toward the general good, not toward any kind of desire on the University’s part to make money from their creations. That’s paranoid, but also a sign that the academics and librarians who support open access are not getting the message across (although Peter Suber always tries). Getting control is not the point behind this, the point is maintaining access. If your work is different from other products of the university academic community, then maybe you ought not do it within the academy. Letting you off the hook (which is exactly what the Dean eventually did) sets a precedent that could allow departments to beg off and defeat the whole… well, movement sounds a bit ideological, but a movement it is.

On the other hand, well, if having my MFA thesis online means I can’t publish it, that sucks. And I’ll have to raise a fuss about it when the time comes for me to upload, although I kind of doubt that the Deans at my school will take my concerns as seriously as Dean Lopes at Iowa. In fact, I should probably start raising this issue now if I have any hope of getting around it…

The only real solution, I think, would be to require some kind of critical piece or let the artists’ statement alone count for the actual “thesis” in question and make the manuscript of creative work part of an unpublished defense process, b/c simply letting MFA’s off the hook is problematic both to the status of the program w/in the academy and to the process of gaining control of academic work.

[Probably going to be cross-posted at my library blog.]

If someone this smart likes Twitter, maybe I can like it too. But it still won’t be any fun unless I can get some buddies.

Or, we could all live our fake lives via Twitter. B/c Twitter lets you change your name whenever you want to. It could be where all of our pseudonyms have lunch with Barack Obama, save the world, and climb Mt. Everest.

A little bird told me

March 6, 2008

that Twitter is for losers. But then another bird told me that Twitter was going to be huge during the conventions this summer. So, now I twitter. If you twitter, please tell me so that I can stop having zero Twitter buddies. I feel so under-surveilled without you by my virtual side.

PS I also now Last FM and 30 Box and My Blog Log, so if you do those things as well let me know too. Or if you do other things that I should do.

UPDATE: I have disconnected myself from the Internet for two hours, and I no longer have any desire to do anything as nutty as twitter. That was weird. It was like the internets briefly addicted me.

People listen, at last. In which I read between the lines of this NYT article on the Harvard arts & sciences faculty’s vote on open access, institutional repository publishing of completed articles.

The idea:

Faculty members are scheduled to vote on a measure that would permit Harvard to distribute their scholarship online, instead of signing exclusive agreements with scholarly journals that often have tiny readerships and high subscription costs…. Under the proposal Harvard would deposit finished papers in an open-access repository run by the library that would instantly make them available on the Internet. Authors would still retain their copyright and could publish anywhere they pleased — including at a high-priced journal, if the journal would have them.

Reading this is kind of an open access librarian’s dream come true. A lot of them (I won’t quite count myself among this crowd yet b/c I’m not an actual librarian) have been working overtime to alert anyone who will listen to the fact that the current publishing model requires scholars to turn their contributions to human knowledge over to people whose raison d’etre is to make a buck. You get tenure, and your article begins to disappear. (Of course, good articles will be cited and anthologized and possibly live on past its journal publication, but the vast majority of articles eventually end up trapped in some publisher’s copyright vault.) Of course, nobody listens to librarians, but that’s why this vote has two pieces of good news 1) faculty are doing it and 2) the faculty are at Harvard. You know, once the uber-cool kids start doing it, the other kids will catch on.

The publishing industry, as well as some scholarly groups, have opposed some forms of open access, contending that free distribution of scholarly articles would ultimately eat away at journals’ value and wreck the existing business model.

YES. Exactly. It’s not a business model at this point, it’s a parasite. It deserves to be wrecked. But of course, the publishers want to capitalize on the fear that lurks at the heart of all faculty facing tenure, who really don’t need the rules of the game to change right when they have to play:

Such a development would in turn damage the quality of research, they argue, by allowing articles that have not gone through a rigorous process of peer review to be broadcast on the Internet as easily as a video clip of Britney Spears’s latest hairdo. It would also cut into subsidies that some journals provide for educational training and professional meetings, they say.

That simply does not have to be true. It’s utterly misleading to say that self-archiving articles is or has to be the equivalent of putting a goofy video of your cat on YouTube. If scholars agree to support open access publishing, slightly modified peer review procedures will follow suit. Scholars and their departments already make no money off their journal publishing–most of the intellectual labor is volunteer slave labor anyway. There are multiple open access, peer-review journals already working. If departments need to begin counting self-archived publications in the tenure process, they’ll find a way to hash it out. It will eventually be impossible to avoid seeing that this is necessary, either b/c library budgets for humanities publications will become so slashed as to no longer support third party humanities publishing–

Supporters of open access say that the current system creates a different set of problems for academics. Expensive journals cut into a library’s budget for scholarly books and monographs, which hurts academic publishers, which hurts the coming generation of scholars who must publish to gain tenure.

–or b/c one of these days government funding is going to depend on making the newly-minted knowledge publicly available, as it already does for many scientific researchers. Now “eventually” could still be a long time, but one hopes, you know?

I hope Harvard prof’s do the right thing, although if they don’t I’ll at least partially understand why. Change is scary. But just having a vote is a start.

UPDATE: They voted yes! Maybe those hummingbirds are really going to meet.